A solar energy system that doesn’t require sunlight is almost as bizarre as a tidal power system that doesn’t use water – however that’s exactly what researchers at MIT have cooked up. The team just unveiled a new photovoltaic energy conversion system that can be powered by heat, the sun’s rays, a hydrocarbon fuel, or a decaying radioisotope. The button-sized power generator that can also run three times longer than a lithium-ion battery of the same weight.

一个不需阳光就能发电的太阳能 发电系统就和一个不需要水就能工作的潮汐发电站一样不可思议——然而这这是MIT研究人员正在酝酿的事情。这个小组前不久推出一款由热量、阳光、烃类燃料 或正在衰变的放射性同位素驱动的新型光伏能量转换系统。这个只有一粒纽扣大小的发电机可比相同重量的锂离子电池多工作2倍时间。

The science behind the device is not necessarily groundbreaking, as engineers have long used the surface of a material to convert heat into precisely tuned wavelengths of light. However MIT’s method to convert light and heat into electricity is much more efficient than previous versions.


Described in the journal Physical Review A, MIT’s breakthrough was enabled by a material with billions of nanoscale pits etched on its surface. When this pitted material absorbs heat, it radiates energy at precisely chosen wavelengths depending on the size of the pits. It is hoped that the technology may one day be used to generate power for spacecraft on long term missions where sunlight may not be available.

在 《物理学评论A》杂志中描述了MIT之所以能取得突破性进展的原因在于材料的表面蚀刻有数以亿计纳米尺度的小坑。当这个坑坑洼洼的材料吸收热量时,它精确 地辐射选定波长的光,而波长由坑的大小决定。人们希望这种技术能有朝一日运用在执行长期任务的宇宙飞船上,因为那些地方可能没有阳光能够到达。

“Being able to convert heat from various sources into electricity without moving parts would bring huge benefits,” says Ivan Celanovic, research engineer in MIT’s Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN), “especially if we could do it efficiently, relatively inexpensively and on a small scale.” Celanovic went on to say that he believes his team could triple the efficiency of their prototype, adding that “It’s a neat example of how fundamental research in materials can result in new performance that enables a whole spectrum of applications for efficient energy conversion.”

“能够够将源自各种方式的热转化为电力而又不需任何活动部件将会带来巨大的好 处”MIT士兵纳米科技研究所工程师Ivan Celanovic说道,“尤其是如果它还很高效、相对较小并且安装在一小块东西上。”Celanovic接着说他相信他的小组将它们的光伏发电效率翻两 番,还说“这将是一个材料科学方面的基础性研究引发全领域电子用品高效能源转换的典范。”

Considering that space firms are looking for new ways to power spacecraft efficiently now that the shuttle fleet has been retired, we imagine NASA will be among the many companies interested in this technology.




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